Netanyahu ally agrees to delay Israeli judicial overhaul amid mass protests

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, March 26, 2023. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had called on Netanyahu to freeze the plan, citing deep divisions in the country and turmoil in the military. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

A key ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday agreed to delay plans to push through a controversial judicial overhaul that has drawn unprecedented public, government and military opposition and raised alarm from the U.S.

Israel’s far-right Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir has agreed to delay until May discussions surrounding the judicial reforms, his political party Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, said in a statement, the Times of Israel reported.

The move comes amid pointed warnings from the U.S. to Netanyahu to pursue compromise with opposition lawmakers around the judicial reforms, which critics warn would destroy the bedrock of Israel’s democracy by stripping the independent oversight of the judicial branch. 

“We’ve been very clear privately with Israeli leaders, as well as publicly, with our concerns over developments in the last 48 hours,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday morning, “and again, strongly urge Israeli leaders to compromise here.”

The judicial reforms, which are said to include allowing the government to overrule Supreme Court decisions and have greater control over appointing judges to the bench, have drawn unprecedented opposition. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis participating in weeks of protests, prompting commitments of refusals among some of Israel’s most elite military units and, on Monday, triggering a general strike among government workers. 

President Biden has warned directly to Netanyahu that the judicial reforms risked threatening the “shared values” of the U.S. and Israel relationship and urged the Israeli leader to pursue compromise with the opposition. 

“It really does come from a place…of supporting the very idea of checks and balances and the idea of consensus support. That’s where the President’s main concerns come from,” Kirby told reporters.

U.S. lawmakers have also expressed deep concern that the judicial overhaul is a crisis for Israel’s democracy.

Updated: 12:44 p.m. ET.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Benjamin Netanyahu Israel John Kirby Protests

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